Thursday, April 24, 2008

I don't want people like that teaching my kids

Last week I wrote a post about where "print" journalists could, and could not, find new work.
Today I want to talk about where I'm hoping print journalists don't find work -- academia.

According to an article in Editor & Publisher, the B2B publication for the newspaper business, a growing number of print journalists, upset by the changes in the industry, are looking for the exits. That's no surprise. But what's disturbing to me is that many of these print journalists are apparently looking for jobs as journalism teachers.
I can't imagine a worse development for journalism.

First, it would be inappropriate for me not to disclose my bias here. I'd love to teach journalism. And perhaps, someday, I will. And it's certainly not in my interest for thousands of laid-off print folks to be competing with me for teaching gigs.
But more importantly, it's not in the interest of journalism students for schools to hire people who either can't or won't adjust to the changes in media. Heck, journalism schools are already filled with people who don't understand modern journalism. And there's little doubt that those teachers have been producing graduates who are ill-prepared for the workforce.

There's little to nothing I can do about this.
I'm fairly well connected to a number of journalism schools, as longtime readers of this blog know. But those schools are the ones that "get it." I'm not afraid that they will hire print dinosaurs. They won't. They know better. But I am worried sick that the schools that don't understand how much journalism has changed in recent years will hire people who have spent the past few years resisting change.

For my recent four-part series on college journalism, start here and follow the links.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Where can "print" reporters go?

A few days ago I wrote a piece for this blog about the financial crisis in B2B publishing. I said that much of the industry had become "weighed down by the twin albatrosses of junk bonds and rising print costs." And I suggested that the "editors, salespeople and designers of B2B... walk away from print."

A reader of that post wrote a comment asking "where -- specifically -- would you suggest B2B writers/editors look for jobs in the digital world? I'm curious if there are even places for all those thousands of print-based folks to go?" And over at Folio magazine, where my blog is republished, a reader asked "But where do we go, especially in this economy? It's easy to say -- not easy to do."

Those are legitimate questions. And I'll do my best to answer them. But be warned -- plenty of folks in B2B publishing won't like what I have to say.

The unwanted
First, the bad news.
As fast as the world of Web journalism is growing, no "print" journalist should assume that there's a place for him in the new world. The truth is that there are not "places for all those thousands of print-based folks to go." And don't kid yourself -- we are talking about thousands of displaced journalists. The newspaper industry alone has lost 10,000 jobs in recent months. I'd put the number of lost jobs in B2B at about half of that in the past 12 months. And all across the media world, the bad news just keeps coming.
(Here's a quick quiz. What is the largest business media company and the world, and what does it mean for the job market? Answer: It's these guys: a brand new company, created by merger, which is expected to soon lay off thousands of the most talented business journalists on earth, turning an already saturated market into something even tougher.)
But the worse news for print-based journalists is that much of the Web journalism world wants nothing to do with them.
What print journalists don't seem to understand is that:
a) A lot of Web folks are pretty tired of print folks. Nearly everyone who works in Web-only or Web-first journalism came from a print background. And for years they toiled in places where the online world was treated with disdain. Then, as Web journalism took off, the online staff found themselves in an all-new form of hell. Every day was filled with the whining, complaining and resentments of the print staff. I assure you -- the Web journalists who have managed to escape that scene are not eager to start hiring the same moaning characters they left behind. The big secret of Web journalism is that it's fun. And we don't want anyone to spoil that.
b) A lot of Web folks think print folks are kind of lazy and stupid. Every Web journalist on earth has put in the time to learn how to be a Web journalist. No one taught it to them. They taught themselves. They put in the extra hours, took courses, read books, talked to smart people and looked for answers. And they did all that because they knew that Web journalism was important. Print journalists, on the other hand, tend to think that they themselves are important. They're the sorts of people who, even as their publications collapse around them, think the boss should invest in training them in the new skills. Web folks don't want to hire anyone like that. Because Web journalists know that six months from now when something new comes around the print guy is going to be demanding more training.

A place where print is valued

Now, the good news.
Although I think it's a very good idea to walk away from the print side of B2B publishing, there is one possible exception. And for print journalists who either can't or won't become part of Web culture, it offers a haven.
It's a media sector that is growing like crazy and where print journalism skills are still highly valued. New media skills are valued there too. In fact, they are valued more highly, as they should be. But print has a strong role. And there is growth.
So it's time to consider a career in content marketing (my apologies to Rex, who hates that term)
The key to understanding content marketing (or branded media, custom publishing, or any of the other terms used to describe the sector) is that it generally does not require the content to pay for itself. Rather, the content is used to spread a branding message or serve a community. Perhaps the most recognized forms of content marketing are the airline magazines in the seat-back cover or the alumni magazine that many of us get from the colleges we attended. In content marketing, a magazine isn't a business, it supports a business. In content marketing, a newspaper doesn't make a profit, it supports a nonprofit. In content marketing, a newsletter isn't a way to monetize readers, it's a way to communicate with customers.
And in B2B, the sector is growing more important. Earlier this week, Junta42 and BtoB magazine released a report showing that B2B marketers are spending nearly one-third of their total budgets on content marketing.
Take a look at the report here. Make note that the most popular products in the space are Web and electronic. But note too that marketers are producing print newsletters, magazines and other traditional products.
If I were a print-based, B2B journalist, I'd be watching that sector for opportunities.

(Disclosure: I offer content marketing services through my business. And although I work on print products, I specialize in Web and other electronic products. I'm not hiring print staffers at this time.)

For more on the world of content marketing, check out this article in Folio.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More on CIO and the LinkedIn links

ASBPE has not yet issued an official ruling on the controversy that began two days ago when I wrote about my concerns over CIO magazine's use of in-text links. That's understandable. Unlike the ad-in-links controversy that I've written about repeatedly, the CIO issue is more complex.
If you're not familiar with the issue, please take a look at the earlier post (and make sure you read the comments, which contain a number of interesting insights.)

But ASBPE has done the next best thing.
Steve Roll, president of the organization, has written a thoughtful piece in which he sums up the problem for journalism ethicists quite nicely, saying that "publishing on Internet--with all of its emerging functionalities--is likely to keep providing us with a steady supply of ethical conundrums. Failing to condemn unethical practices would destroy our profession. Being too quick to condemn new practices would likely have a chilling effect on innovation."
Meanwhile, Martha Spizziri, vice president of ASBPE, has weighed in as well.

Stuff to think about
While ASBPE crafts its official response, I'd urge everyone in B2B journalism to think long and hard about the issues raised by the CIO links.
To aid in that process, here's what I see as the two crucial questions, based on my understanding of ASBPE's ethics guidelines, my conversations with CIO staffers, the comments posted to this blog, and the emails I've received.
1. What constitutes editorial approval?
I first heard about the CIO links when I was contacted by CIO editors who were upset that they had not been consulted. They didn't approve of the links. They didn't insert them. And they didn't know they would be there. What the editors told me was that the links simply appeared in their stories.
ASBPE's guidelines say that ""Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors." To me, the use of the plural is crucial. It seems to me that links -- whether they are an ad or something else -- should only be inserted by the individuals responsible for each story. In other words, each editor at a publication must decide when, and when not, to add a link.
However, there is another school of thought. Abbie Lundberg, who runs the editorial department at CIO, posted a comment to my earlier post saying "As Editor in Chief at CIO, I approve the use of these links. " Abbie also notes that another senior staffer who has since left the company also approved of the links.
In other words, Abbie is saying that because the senior editorial staff approved the deal to place the links on the site, then discretion has been exercised and the links have received the "approval of editors."
Certainly many people would agree with Abbie on this. The senior editorial staff is ultimately responsible for editorial decisions.
I, however, disagree.
I think the ASBPE guidelines do and should require that individual editors be able to exercise choice in inserting a link into a story. If an editor thinks the link has value, the link goes in. If he doesn't think so, the link stays out.
Or, to put the question another way -- would ASBPE say that the ads-in-text used by Vibrant Media don't violate the ethics guidelines as long as the senior editorial staffer signs off on the deal? Of course not.

2. Must a link have a commercial/advertising component for it to violate ethics guidelines?
This is perhaps the most complex part of the equation.
In a comment to my earlier post, Rex Hammock notes that "nearly every financial news site on the web has such automatic links to information about publicly traded companies. Those are in-line links that an editor does not explicitly approve every instance of their inclusion -- they are baked into the CMS."
To see an example of what Rex is talking about, take a look at this story on the CNNMoney site and scroll down to the third paragraph. What you'll find is that inserted after the word "IBM" are links to IBM's stock price (and other material) and a Fortune magazine profile of the company.
It's unlikely that anyone would argue that these links do not have value to the reader. It's equally unlikely that anyone would argue that the links are any more or less commercial than anything else on the CNNMoney site.
In other words, such links are, by any reasonable measure, editorial links and not advertising links. And Rex is saying, correctly, that such links are widely accepted among professional journalists.
Furthermore, as a general rule in 2008, such links are "baked into" the content-management systems of many of the financial-news giants. The journalists who produce stories at most of those sites don't insert the links. The links simply appear.
However, back when I worked at CNNfn, the predecessor of CNNMoney, editors did have to "explicitly approve every instance" of such links. If I remember correctly, all that was required was that you highlight the company name and click a button in the CMS. But if we didn't do that, the links didn't appear.
Now in truth, that requirement for approval was a function of the CMS. None of us thought to insert editorial choice into the process. It just sort of happened that way.
I have no idea if such "approval" is still part of the CMS at CNN. But I believe that it should be part of the process for B2B publishers.
Because, as the ASBPE guidelines say, "Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors."

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Perhaps I'm being too rigid.
But I believe with all my heart that B2B journalism functions best when it allows individual editors to determine what does and does not go into a story.
I hope that ASBPE agrees with me.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Breaking my heart: more unethical links in edit

The B2B publisher that has perhaps the best reputation in the industry for ethical behavior is behaving unethically.
And I'm sick about it.
CIO magazine, which is owned by CXO Media, a unit of IDG, is adding links to editorial copy without the approval of editors.

Longtime readers of this blog will understand why that has broken my heart. But if you're new to my work, allow me to explain.
I've been fighting against in-text ads such as those sold by Vibrant Media for a very long time now. And the reason I do so is because such links are -- clearly -- a violation of the ethical guidelines of B2B journalism. (If there was ever any doubt that such links were unethical, such doubt was removed when ASBPE updated its ethics policy nearly a year ago." ABM has also made its position clear on the issue.)

The reason such links are unethical should be obvious to anyone who works in this industry. These links violate the basic premise of professional journalism -- news is kept as separate from commercial interests as is possible. If someone other than editors controls any part of editorial, then all of editorial is tainted.
Let me say that again:
If someone other than editors controls any part of editorial, then all of editorial is tainted.

To make matters worse, these new links are from a site I love (LinkedIn), are based on a concept I love (opening an API to developers) and appear on a magazine site I love (CIO) that is owned by a company where editors have won the Timothy White Award for editorial integrity for two years in a row!
And to add insult to injury -- IDG is a client of mine. Hell, just a few months ago I spoke at an all-day conference of CIO/CXO editors and warned them, as I warn all B2B editors, to fight against the unethical use of links in copy.
But to tell you the truth, I never thought that particular group of editors would have to fight this fight. I just never expected this behavior from IDG.

No need for this
The links are appearing in stories across the CIO site. Take a look here. What you'll find is that throughout the story company names have been turned into links with a little symbol next to them. Click on those and you'll get a pop-up that tells you how you're connected to people at the company.
Now in truth, that's a pretty fun piece of functionality. And in truth, such links may be of value to readers.
But by automating the links rather than giving control to editors, CIO has violated industry ethics.
And what is most annoying about that is that there's a far more appropriate way to do this.
For example, take a look at this article in Businessweek about Starbucks.
In the center column you'll see a series of "Story Tools," including one that says linkedin connections. And if you're a LinkedIn member, you'll find that when you click on that tool you'll get a pop-up that tells you how you're connected to people at Starbucks.
That's the exact same functionality as what's used at CIO. But the folks at Businessweek recognized that those links should not be appearing inside the news story. (Note: It appears that Businessweek may have once considered a plan to place the links inside stories.)

Disrespecting your peers

According to what I hear from IDG staffers, the links made their appearance on the CIO site in exactly the same way such things have happened elsewhere.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, they were there.
Rank-and-file editors and reporters hadn't been consulted. And questions about the links were deflected with meaningless corporate-speak like "it's an experiment."
And, as has happened elsewhere, the people responsible for the links were confused and surprised by the editors' reaction.
But that is absurd.
Imagine the reverse situation. Imagine that some senior editors decided to change the ads on a site. Imagine that they altered the html so that readers who clicked on an ad didn't visit the advertiser's site, but went instead to someplace that editors thought they should go -- perhaps to a competitor's site.
Would anyone be surprised that the advertising staff was upset?
And if a salesperson ran into the newsroom screaming in protest, would anyone think it was an appropriate response to say "it's just an experiment."

Read 'em and weep
You can see more of these new, offensive links here.
Take a look. Then read the following excerpt from ASBPE's ethics guidelines (I've added bold text for emphasis):
"Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such, as should clickthrough pages, which may also contain the publication’s editorial content, with appropriate disclosures provided. Such disclosure may include a “use with permission” statement or similar language. Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold. If an editor allows a link, it generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader. [Paragraph D. revised, May 7, 2007, by vote of the Ethics Committee.]

As always, I welcome readers input. What do you think of these links?
Also, do you agree with me that CIO can remedy this situation by moving the links outside the story in the same way Businessweek has done?

For a Reuters story on LinkedIn, its API and a deal with Businessweek magazine, click here.

(Editor's note: CIO sent me a press release about the deal with LinkedIn earlier today. That release was also sent to a number of media outlets. The release was embargoed until later this week. But earlier this afternoon, Media Business magazine published a brief story on the deal. CIO also published an letter to its readers today announcing the deal. I consider the embargo broken.)

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Financial crisis in B2B publishing

Things are awful and getting worse.
That's my conclusion about B2B publishing as yet another company takes drastic measures after finding it can't carry an absurd debt load in a recessionary economy.
Yesterday, in an email to employees, Penton CEO John French announced a companywide salary and hiring freeze. He also requested ideas on cutting costs. John also "asked for a complete reforecast from all of our product managers, including a restated revenue forecast and a projected expense forecast for the remainder of 2008." That process should be completed by the end of the month, at which time John promised to report back to the staff "on our findings."

Penton's announcement comes in the wake of a slew of bad news in our industry. And when I add up these events, I see catastrophe.
I don't want to sound too dramatic, but I've gone from being worried to being worried sick. Much of B2B publishing -- weighed down by the twin albatrosses of junk bonds and rising print costs -- has sunk into a death spiral.
Consider the news of the past few days:
  1. Northstar Travel Media announced yesterday that it's for sale. Boston Ventures, the private equity company that bought Northstar from Reed Elsevier in 2001, has apparently had enough. The Northstar sale will take place in a particularly tough environment. There's already a ton of B2B properties on the market -- including Reed Business Information, the U.S. B2B unit of Reed Elsevier.
  2. Among the B2B companies languishing on the shelf is Ziff Davis Media. Late last year, Ziff managed to sell its most valuable properties. This week the new owner of those properties, Ziff Davis Enterprises, announced companywide layoffs. It's also worth noting that both Ziff Davis Media and ZDE have recently gone back on the promise to cease the unethical use of in-edit advertising -- a sure sign of desperation and idiocy.
  3. Earlier this week Nielsen Business Media announced another series of layoffs. It's still unclear just how many jobs were cut in this round. But news reports put the total loss of jobs at the former VNU at around 4,000 in the past year.
Shelter from the storm
Over at Penton, there are some exceptions to the hiring freeze.
Penton's New Media Group will be spared, because, as John noted, "these activities are critical to our revenue growth plans for both the near and long-term future." (Disclosure: I've consulted on several projects for the group.)
That shouldn't surprise anyone.
The giant publishers -- and many of the smaller ones too -- are in the exact same position. Their revenue is falling while their print expenses are rising. Choking on debt, all they can do is exit the game entirely or cut expenses and double their bets on new media.
There's simply no other way out.

But there is another way out for the editors, salespeople and designers of B2B.
You can walk away from print.
And it's way, way, way past the time you did so.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another B2B publisher announces layoffs

Less than 24 hours ago I wrote a post about layoffs at Nielsen Business Media and said "I don't think today's layoffs will be the last we'll see in 2008."
Well as much as it pains me to say so -- I was right.
This afternoon Ziff Davis Enterprises announced it is is restructuring and laying off an undisclosed number of workers. The restructuring isn't a surprise. ZDE announced in January that it would restructure. But until today it was unclear if there would be layoffs.
ZDE, which publishes Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek, is the former B2B unit of Ziff Davis Media. Private equity firm Insight Venture Partners bought the properties for around $160 million earlier this year.

It's worth noting that layoffs aren't the only thing that Nielsen and ZDE have in common. Both companies suffered through an embarrassing ethics scandal last year. (You can read about Nielsen's problems here (the company was called VNU then) and read about Ziff's problems here.)

News of the layoffs comes just days after Insight Venture Partners announced that ZDE had "received funding" of $20 million from venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners. The size of Bessemer's stake in ZDE has not been disclosed.

(Addendum: Nielsen says that yesterday's cuts are part of a restructuring that had been scheduled to end in December of last year. A total of 4,000 jobs were slated for removal in that process. Folio magazine reports today that as many as 200 people may have lost their jobs yesterday.)

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Layoffs and leverage

Bad news today in the world of B2B journalism. Nielsen Business Media, formerly known as VNU, has laid off a number of editorial staffers. Folio magazine says it's "not immediately clear how many employees have been let go." While the FishbowlNY blog at Mediabistro says between 40 and 50 jobs have been eliminated and cites an anonymous tipster who claims "most cuts (are) coming from the company's digital and conference arms."

It's been a tough year and a half at Nielsen. In that time the company has gone through a reorganization and name change, an ethics scandal and an earlier round of layoffs.
And my heart goes out to the folks who lost their jobs today. I know what that's like. I've been laid off in the past. It's a truly awful feeling.
But the truth is that all of us in B2B are vulnerable now. And all of us need to be prepared for the possibility of job loss.

Several months I wrote on this blog that I was worried that 2008 would prove to be an awful year for our industry. And every week seems to bring news that indicates I'm right to be nervous.
Many of the major players in B2B publishing are leveraged to the hilt. And they seem to have bet the house on being able to find extraordinary amounts of new revenue in the online world. But since so many B2B editors still don't get Web journalism, many B2B Web sites remain laughably bad. And as the economy slows down, I just can't imagine that people will line up to spend money on crappy Web sites.
Even the very best Web sites in B2B are in trouble this year. Over and over again I hear from people who are struggling with demands from senior management for levels of growth that simply cannot happen. The ugly truth is that when the economy slows, you can't expect an every-growing number of people to to line up to spend an ever-increasing amount of money on any Web site -- no matter how gorgeous, well-written, and filled with multimedia it may be.

I hope I turn out to be wrong about this. But I don't think today's layoffs will be the last we'll see in 2008. I'm worried that things are bad. I'm worried that they're getting worse. And as I said just last week, because so many B2B publishers are "privately held, we just don't know how ugly the balance sheets may be."
(Note: Although Nielsen Co., the parent of Nielsen Business Media, is privately held, much of its finances are reported publicly. And things ain't pretty at Nielsen. Several days ago the company announced it would buy IAG Research for $225 million. To finance that purchase, Nielsen said it would sell $220 million in bonds. Or, in layman's terms, the company will borrow $220 million. But that new debt comes on top of some $8.47 billion in existing debt -- and that has the credit agencies shaking their heads.
Even prior to word that Nielsen would return to the bond market to borrow again, Moody's had rated Nielsen's last round of debt Caa1 -- some seven levels below investment grade!! That's about as junk-like as a junk bond can be.)

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Going with the (copy) flow

Every investment banker and media investor I've ever met reads PaidContent. But very few of the B2B reporters I talk to are familiar with the site.
That perplexes me.
First, PaidContent covers our industry. And I think that folks in B2B should be reading it for the same reason I think they should be reading Folio magazine -- it pays to know what's going on.
But perhaps more importantly, PaidContent is the best of the Web-centric news operations in the media space. And watching how Rafat Ali and his team structure their operation can be instructive for anyone looking to move to a Web-first model.

PaidContent is a blog. It's also a full-service news operation with a few offices, some talented reporters, global reach and a number of related sites on such subjects as mobile content. But it is, at its core, a blog.
Each story has a comment function and a slew of social bookmarking and other Web 2.0 features. The entire site is published with the ExpressionEngine content-management system. Each story is brief -- more of a blog post than a traditional article.
But the most blog-like feature of PaidContent is that it's published in reverse-chronological order -- the newest stuff is at the top of the page.

Last month, Scott Karp at Publishing2.0 wrote an interesting piece on the differences between how traditional and Web-centric publishers present news on their home pages. Traditional publishers such as the New York Times, Scott said, arrange the news "by what is most important." Whereas Web-centric publishers arrange news by what is most recent or, in the case of sites such as Digg, by providing an option to read by timestamp or reader ranking.
Scott notes, correctly, that the traditional method of "organizing news by importance as the default makes sense when you’re only delivering the news once a day (and the “default” is all you get). But when news publishing is continuous, it’s not the best way to serve frequent news consumers."
Publishing a home page in the traditional fashion, in other words, creates a situation where it appears to frequent visitors that nothing has changed. And in a world full of 24/7 news providers, Web-only publishers and industry bloggers, that's not a good idea.

Twice in recent weeks I've had conversations with B2B editors who were upset because they thought their Web sites updated too frequently. They were angry that new content pushed their old content out of the top spot on the home page. They preferred a system where their stories sat in the lead position for days on end.
But that is madness.
Although it's perfectly appropriate to give some special treatment to some special stories, a Web site should serve users, not writers. In particular, a home page should serve those readers who turn to it most often -- the frequent visitors.
Or, to put it another way, a home page should more closely reflect the most efficient of the online distribution systems: an RSS feed.

So what does it look like when a traditional, print-based publisher adopts a Web-centric approach to the home page? Take a look at ReadyMade. Or, even better, check out the beta of the new Popular Science home page. That site has a top slot for a story that editors choose, but it also gives users the option to choose a home page of most recent, most viewed, most popular or most commented on stories.
Take a look at those sites, and then ask yourself six questions:
1. Just how many times a day (or week) do I think a reader will come to my site and hit the refresh button before he gives up?
2. How much time do I think a reader will spend drilling around my site looking for something, anything, new?
3. What message do I send to a print subscriber who comes to my home page and finds the exact same stories that he just read in print?
4. Is the industry I cover so unchanging and uninteresting that the most important story I can tell my readers on Wednesday is the same one I told them on Monday?
5. What would my home page look like if readers, instead of editors, had their way?
6. Since my home page isn't how readers find my content, why am I worried about my home page?

(Note: PaidContent's Rafat Ali recently posted a video of a speech he gave to a group of journalism and business students. It's an instructive look at how a young, Web-centric journalist was able to see past tradition and find a new way of publishing. It runs for about an hour. But it's worth your time.)

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Mysteries of the (inverted) pyramid

Before there was a Web, there was a news company that mastered the art of writing for a screen rather than a printed page.
Customers of Bloomberg News consume stories on a Bloomberg terminal, a sort of souped-up, proprietary, multi-screen PC. Those customers pay an extraordinary amount of money for the terminals. And Bloomberg is able to justify the cost by providing extremely valuable information in a format that users can consume quickly.
Nearly every Bloomberg story adheres to a template in the first four paragraphs. The so-called four-graf lede -- theme (a what/why opening paragraph), authority (a quote to back up the lede), details (facts and data that support the lede) and what's at stake (the Bloomberg version of the nut graph, which emphasizes the importance of a story using numbers and money) -- is instantly recognizable to close readers of business news.
Sometimes the order of the paragraphs changes. But seldom does a story drift far from the template.
You can read a little about the system here. Or you can take a look at a four-graf lede here.

Sometimes, when I teach a workshop on writing for the Web, I make a point of having folks learn the four-graf lede. I did that just last month at the College Media Advisers convention. (You can read a little about that workshop here -- and check out a photo of me acting like an obnoxious editor as I read over the shoulder of a reporter.)
But the truth is that as much as I like the Bloomberg style, it's not exactly perfect for the Web. The Bloomberg four-graph lede is linear and bland. It fails to take advantage of the nonlinear, personal style of the Web. More importantly, the four-graph lede is aimed, at least in part, at winning the approval of newspaper editors. So it adheres to the conventions of print writing.

A few days ago DigiDave wrote a post on his blog about "Re-thinking the Inverted Pyramid and Other Artifacts of Newsroom Culture." That's a valid exercise. And one that I find myself doing quite a bit of late. As I spend more and more time helping clients change their workflow to a Web-first model, I find myself returning again and again to the core assumptions about what a news story looks like.
And when I question those assumptions, and look for a better, Web-first structure for news, I find myself returning again and again to the concept, if not the execution, of the Bloomberg four-graph lede.
So here are my suggestions for how a Web-first publisher should structure stories:
1. Create a template for your publication and stick to it.
The Bloomberg four-graph lede works well on several levels. First, it's fast (by removing the need to think about story structure, it's possible to spend more time on reporting than on writing.) Second, it's recognizable as part of the Bloomberg brand.
Smart editors and publishers should create a story structure for their publications that won't commoditize news but will allow reporters to churn out copy at wire-service speed. These templates, unlike the inverted pyramid, will vary from publisher to publisher.
2. Resist the urge to tell readers everything.
Much of what needs to be told in a story can be told through links. Cut back on background grafs. When there's something to say that's already been said, link to it. Don't rewrite it.
3. Consider the likelihood that the story will be read on a cell phone or PDA. Format accordingly. And for god's sake, keep it short -- 800 words max.

There is, of course, more to Web-first publishing than writing (or photos, video, sound, etc.) In the next few days I'll publish my thoughts on copy flow, story management and the role of editing.

For an earlier post about the Bloomberg terminal, click here.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Some holes can not be climbed out of

Just days ago I urged journalism teachers to force students to learn about business and finance. In particular, I want students to understand debt financing, which has put a stranglehold on many publications.
My hope is that by understanding the murderously difficult environment in which many publishers operate, students will made better decisions about their career path.

To that end, I offer a reading assignment.
Reuters has published a lengthy and well-reasoned article showing that it will be damn near impossible for Sam Zell to avoid a default at the Tribune Co., which is groaning beneath $4 billion of debt and some tough-to-meet debt covenants. You can check out the article here. Students who take the CliffNotes approach to study can get everything they need from PaidContent's take.

Those of us in B2B should avoid the urge to feel smug about the nightmare that is newspaper finance. In our end of the industry, things are likely just as bad. But since so many of our major players are privately held, we just don't know how ugly the balance sheets may be.
And as I've said before, I'm worried.

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education